Thursday, March 26, 2015

Guest post - Tom Pitts - The Novella is Dead

image001Coughs, comes up to podium, remembers sage advice: Open with a joke. Open with a joke!

Um … The novel walks into a bar, followed by the novella.

Bartender says, "What's with the new guy?"

The novel says, "It's a long story."

(Stolen from @IsTheNovelDead on twitter)

A few years ago, when I tried to pen my first longer work—the piece that eventually became Knuckleball—a friend told me, "The novella is dead!"

image003I'm happy to say this friend (I'm looking at you, Joe Clifford!) was wrong.

Although, I'm not sure he was wrong at the time.

They're always proclaiming something is dead. God is dead! Rock'n'Roll is dead! Or my personal favorite: Disco is dead!! But there was something a bit more sinister at work here. The publishing industry really did their best to kill off the novella—the brunch of literature, the Opie-size opuses, bite-sized book, the orphan of the epic.

It wasn't really that reader's appetites for shorter works had died off. Far from it. The reality of printing skinny little hardcopy books that had to be shipped, invoiced, and stored (thus keeping the price close to what a full-length novel would be) made it tough to rationalize keeping them in the game. If a customer saw a big fat book for 12.99 and a thin volume for 10.99, they'd most likely pick up the bigger tome to get more bang for their buck. Who could blame 'em? The big houses saw their out and gave the novella the squeeze.

image006Enter the eBook—enter the era of the 99 cent book. Hate on 'em if you must, but the eBook continues to eclipse their older, heavier brothers with ease, convenience, and price. Now it's possible to crank out plenty of shorter works without the price-heavy network necessary to get novellas to the readers.

And the public responded. Turns out they dig novellas. In spades.

The publishers responded too. From Don Delillo's Point Omega to Eric Beetner's Dig Two Graves, the publishing world has been kicking out tiny tomes left and right.

johnsonI don't know about y'all, but when I'm trying out a new author I often want to dip my toe in the water. Get a taste. When I first tried out Denis Johnson, I bought Nobody Move, his noir novella. (Loved it, by the way, although a lot of his hardcore fans didn't. It did the trick. I'm now a fan. I went on to read Tree of Smoke and other longer works of his. Train Dreams, another tight little novella of his remains a personal favorite.)

I just finished, The Drop, Dennis Lehane's superb novella. It's perfectly balanced and great example of a shorter book packing a punch. Tough to argue with success via satisfaction.

In fact, when my own novella, Piggyback, was published by Snubnose in 2012, I felt like I was in the midst of a novella renaissance. A novella-lution. Okay, that phrase doesn't work too well, but you know what I mean.

One Eye Press answered the call in a big way and decided to put out a series of novellas—their Singles series. There're a few other publishers, both big and small, that have been doing the same thing.

You might say it's the shorter attention span of readers these days, or the ease of e-publishing, or the aligning of the planets. Whatever the reason, there's something nice and satisfying about a novella.

oeps-knuckleball-pitts-3dcover-bWhen I think about Steinbeck's the Red Pony or Of Mice and Men, or even the goddamn Great Gatsby—which by most folk's measurements would be classified as a novella—there's direct and concise quality about a thin tome that gets lost inside of a 500-page doorstopper.

So … here's to the novella.

Oh, by the way, my own novella, my first born, the piece that holds that special place in my heart, KNUCKLEBALL is out now and available from One Eye Press.

Bio: Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. His novel, HUSTLE, and his novella, Piggyback, are available from Snubnose Press. His new novella, Knuckleball, will be released by One Eye Press is out now. Find links to more of his work at:


William E. Wallace said...

I said a lot of the same stuff in my blog last week. Great minds think alike. Or waddle down the muddy road sharing the same rut, anyway...

Dana King said...

I've thought for years e-books would lead to a renaissance for novellas, mostly after being exposed to the work of Ray Banks. I don't think it has to do with shorter attention spans as much as it has to do with writing stories that are as long as they need to be and no longer. No filler. You know, leaving out the parts people tend to skip.

Stephen Leather said...

Great post. But the headline is wrong, right? The novella is far from dead, it's thriving. Or was it irony that I missed? That happens to me a lot...

tom pitts said...

Sorry, Stephen, you've been another victim of DSD's shock and allure clickbait policy. They lay those headlines out like shiny new pennies in the gutters of the internet.

Jim Wilsky said...

In addition to writing great stories, long and short, novels or novellas, you write a damn good post. You can just flat write. Period. Enjoyed this.- Jim